Research Guide: The Role of the Bank's Branches in Australian Life
The Head Office and branches of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) contributed much more to their communities than simply the provision of financial services. The Bank participated in the life of the cities and towns of Australia by creating, sharing in and often facilitating celebrations and important events, from ceremonies associated with the founding and opening of the Bank’s buildings, to the war effort and royal visits. The Bank also contributed to charitable works in support of hospitals and other community services.
Ceremonies at the Bank
The Bank’s branches were located in the busy centres of cities and towns across Australia, often in grand stately buildings, to facilitate their savings and general banking functions. This enabled each branch to become a focus point for its community and a place to hold events. People had a particular interest in the CBA as it was the first bank to fund and support the aims of the Australian Government. In the early days of the Bank, the laying of the foundation stones of new buildings, and their opening ceremonies, drew large crowds. This was especially true in major cities such as Sydney and Melbourne.
Laying foundation stones at Head Office
On 14 May 1913, with crowds looking on, the foundation stones of the Sydney Head Office were laid. Prime Minister Andrew Fisher officially set the first trachyte foundation stone with an ivory-handled gold trowel presented to him by Lord Mayor Alderman AAC Cocks. A second gold trowel was then presented to the Governor of the Bank, Denison Miller, by the Premier and Colonial Secretary, JST McGowen, with which to set the second foundation stone.
Those observing the ceremony included: the Governor-General of Australia, Thomas, Baron Denman; the Attorney-General, William Morris Hughes MP; the Minister of State for External Affairs, Josiah Thomas MP; the Minister of State for Defence, Senator George Foster Pearce; the Minister of State for Trade and Customs, Frank Gwynne Tudor MP; the Minister of State for Home Affairs, King O’Malley MP; the Postmaster General, Charles Edward Frazer MP; the Vice President of the Executive Council, Senator Gregor McGregor; Senator Edward Findlay; and Ernest Alfred Roberts MP. Despite wind and rain – which blew several photographers off the ladders they were using as vantage points – many members of the public also attended. The Lord Mayor, the Prime Minister, the State Premier and the Bank Governor gave speeches at the event.
The Prime Minister declared: ‘There would be erected a building which would be one of stability and beauty, pleasing to the eye and useful to the citizens, not only of Sydney, but of the whole Commonwealth …’ [File 18/7438 p 22].
Buried beneath the foundation stones are two jars, serving as time capsules. The first jar contains copies of five newspapers from 1913, copies of legislation (including the Commonwealth Bank Act, No 18, 1911) and a copy of Governor Miller’s speech for the ceremony. The second jar contains two copies of newspapers dated 14 May 1913, a program for the setting of the foundation stones ceremony with a set of invitation cards, Australian and Imperial coins (including two gold coins, nine silver coins and four copper coins) and seven Australian banknotes.
A marquee decorated with bunting, flags and multi-coloured electric lights was erected for important visitors. Refreshments were served on two large buffet tables ornamented with chrysanthemums. After the ceremony, the Governor hosted a celebratory luncheon at nearby Government House, attended by many of the country’s leading figures.
Opening ceremony at Head Office
Three years later, on 22 August 1916, the opening ceremony of the Head Office building was held. This was an important public event with more than 3,000 people estimated to have attended, necessitating the manning of crowd-control barriers by police. The cheering began when Governor-General Sir Munro Ferguson, accompanied by Prime Minister William Morris Hughes, arrived surrounded by an entourage of uniformed Lancers. Such was the public interest in the spectacle that the event was filmed and shown in cinemas.
The ceremony began at 12 noon. Bank Governor Denison Miller presented a gold key to Governor-General Sir Munro-Ferguson, who used it to unlock the Bank’s main door on Pitt Street. Deputy Bank Governor James Kell then presented a gold key to Prime Minister William Hughes, who opened the Moore St (now Martin Place) entrance to the Bank. The group then entered the banking chamber, with the public streaming in after them. Acting Sydney Manager of the Bank Mr Young then presented Treasurer MP WG Higgs with a signet ring containing a hidden gold key with which he opened the door to the Bank’s main strongroom. Following this, the Melbourne Bank Manager JS Scott presented Mrs Miller (wife of Governor Miller) with a bracelet concealing a gold key, which was used to open the safe deposit area.
Shortly afterwards, the Governor-General, the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the State Governor (Sir Gerald Strickland), the Bank Governor and the building’s architect John Kirkpatrick presented themselves on the banking chamber balcony for public view. The first speech was from the Governor-General, who noted that Ministers would no longer have to travel to Melbourne to have meetings as space was allotted to them in the new Bank building. Then came a speech by Prime Minister Hughes, who emphasised the service of the Bank in the war effort.
Led by Hughes, everyone gave three cheers for the CBA. The assembled crowd – which numbered in the thousands – was then allowed to go through the building to inspect it, and refreshments were served in the hall on the ninth floor.
Melbourne branch ceremony
Several years later, on 26 July 1922, a foundation stone ceremony was held at 367 Collins Street, Melbourne. Once again, the event drew a large crowd, with a grandstand purpose-built for the occasion. Police controlled traffic during the ceremony, while the Bank’s uniformed messengers ushered the 546 invited guests to their seats. High-profile guests included King O’Malley (a long time campaigner for a national bank) and Lieutenant-General Sir John Monash. The general public stood outside on the footpath and in the street to catch a glimpse of the proceedings.
To begin, Mr JK Miller, on behalf of the architects, presented a golden trowel to the Hon HSW Lawson, Premier of Victoria, who gave a speech before handing the trowel to Prime Minister Hughes. The Prime Minister then tapped the trowel against the foundation stone and declared it set. A second gold trowel was then presented by one of the Bank’s architects, H Kirkpatrick, to the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, the Right Hon Cr JW Swanson, who handed it on to Bank Governor Miller. After a long speech, Miller then placed his trowel upon the stone and declared it laid. The ceremony ended with three cheers for the King. A seated and catered reception was provided in what was to become the main banking hall on the ground floor of the building, which was decorated with flags and bunting for the occasion.
The day prior, Deputy Governor of the Bank James Kell had set a hermetically-sealed lead casket into a cavity in the foundations over which the foundation stone would be laid. As with the Head Office in Sydney, this casket was a time capsule containing Australian banknotes and coins, the daily newspapers of 25 July 1922, a set of postage stamps, copies of Bank legislation and a selection of Bank documents.
Ceremonies at other branches
Occasionally, smaller branches also celebrated with public ceremonies. On 24 October 1927, the foundation stone of the new premises in Queen St, Brisbane was laid, viewed by a large audience of politicians and the public, with a banquet held afterwards. On 23 March 1933, the Perth CBA premises in Forrest Place celebrated with an opening ceremony attended by prominent citizens and large crowds. On 27 April 1934, the foundation stone of the reconstructed Hobart premises in Elizabeth Street was laid by the Chairman of Directors, Sir Claude Reading, in the presence of Bank Governor Sir Ernest Riddle and a representative gathering of citizens.
The Adelaide branch held a reopening ceremony on 18 March 1935 to celebrate the remodelling of the premises on King William Street. The decorations included 64 flags, borrowed from the Sydney Office for the occasion. Approximately 270 people attended a catered reception after the event, including many high-ranking politicians and businessman from around South Australia. At the ceremony, Attorney-General Hon SW Jeffries ‘considered that the Commonwealth Bank had displayed its confidence in South Australia by building such a fine office’ and Mr RB McComas (a member of the Bank board) noted ‘that the new Bank building would be an ornament to the street’ [Bank Notes magazine, April 1935, pp 30–33]. Occurring just after the worst of the Great Depression had passed, the upgrading of the Bank premises and the associated ceremonies brought hope, reassurance and entertainment to the people of Adelaide.
In later years, a new Hobart premises was opened on 27 September 1954 at the intersection of Liverpool and Elizabeth Streets. It was the highest office building in Hobart at the time, at nine floors including basements. The ceremony began at 9:45 am with Governor Dr HC Coombs giving a speech to an audience of approximately 1,500 members of the public. He then pressed a button that electronically opened the Bank’s two main sliding doors. Dame Gertrude Cosgrove (the Premier’s wife) was the first to enter the building, followed by her husband, the rest of the official party and the public [The Mercury, 28 September 1954, p 11]. It was reported that over the course of a few hours over 10,000 people had entered the building. The roof was a popular spot for a panoramic view of the city [The Mercury, 4 October 1954, p 18].
After this event, the era of opening ceremonies for government buildings seems to have passed into history.
Impact on the city scape
The Bank’s Sydney Head Office made a substantial impact on the landscape of the city. The 10-storey building rose to 150 feet – the maximum height limit allowed by building regulations at the time. It was publically known that Governor Denison Miller had – prior to being appointed to the position and while travelling the world on a family holiday – studied the architecture of international banks for inspiration. The public were interested in finding out how this international influence would affect the design and construction of the new premises. The building was the first in Australia to be constructed via the ‘American method’ of using a steel frame to support the structure [The Daily Telegraph, 13 April 1915, p 5].
The impact of the building was increased by its location. It was next door to the General Post Office (GPO) – a landmark building. The GPO was traditionally a public gathering place, especially during important national events, as news was originally received from both the GPO and its associated telegraph office. Moore Street (now Martin Place) functioned somewhat like a town square where parades and celebrations were held. This function only increased with the addition of a public building as monumental as the Bank’s Head Office to the area.
Speeches given during the opening ceremony of the Sydney Head Office outlined all that the Bank had already done to serve the country, with Prime Minister Hughes adding that the building ‘stands as the outward and visible sign of the wealth and substance of the whole people’ [The Australasian, 26 August 1916, p 27]. Likewise, reports in the press called the structure ‘palatial’ and ‘the depository of the nation’s security’ [The Murchison Times and Day Dawn Gazette, 15 September 1916, p 1; Evening News (Sydney), 22 August 1916, p 4].
In 1959, the Reserve Bank Act 1959 separated the Commonwealth Bank’s central banking functions from its commercial banking activities. The Commonwealth Bank was renamed the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), which would act as the nation’s central bank and was constituted separately from the newly created Commonwealth Banking Corporation, which would operate as a trading bank. After separation, the RBA built a new Head Office at the other end of Martin Place, near the NSW Parliament.
The size and design of the RBA Head Office building made an impact on the landscape of the central business district, especially as the pre-existing buildings had been much smaller. Like the CBA Head Office, it was at the forefront of new design and technology, and used Australian materials wherever possible to emphasise its place in society as an important institution and to create local employment. There were no ceremonies to mark the laying of foundations or the opening of the building, but a 1964 RBA promotional brochure stated that it was ‘a building having both national and civic importance’.
First World War
During the First World War and its aftermath, the CBA was the major instrument through which loans were raised for both the war effort and the required reconstruction when the fighting ended. The public could subscribe to the loans at any bank or post office, but the operation as a whole was administered by the CBA. The loans were heavily advertised and – from the Sixth War Loan onwards – were launched with an advertising spectacle in front of the Sydney Head Office, assisted by the building’s prominent location on Moore St. The Head Office, and often the branch buildings, were also festooned with advertising posters and banners urging the public into patriotic support of their country and the soldiers defending its interests.
In April 1918, during the Sixth War Loan, the Tank Week promotional campaign was launched. Tank Week was opened outside the Bank’s Head Office by the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Walter E Davidson. Davidson’s address was followed by speeches from the Acting Minister for Public Health, David Storey, and the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Alderman James Joynton Smith. A life-sized model of a Mark IV tank was placed in Moore St in front of the Bank; it was used as a stage for speeches and an office where the public could subscribe to the loan. The week involved model tanks travelling to many different places across Australia to advertise and sell the loan. The Tank Week campaign proved to be so successful it was extended by two weeks, ending on 24 April rather than 10 April as originally planned.
To advertise the Seventh War Loan in September 1918, a miniature destroyer ‘HMAS Australia’ was set up outside the Bank’s Head Office and used as a stage for speeches and appeals to the public. The loan’s opening ceremony took place on the bow of the model destroyer – its guns were fired, the whistle was sounded and smoke was sent up through the funnel. Lines of army and navy personnel surrounded the model, and a military band played during the ceremony. Subscriptions were sold directly from the destroyer itself, and lunchtime appeals were held to reach city workers. When the war ended two months later, crowds surrounded the destroyer to celebrate.
The need for loans continued after the war, and so did the advertising spectacles associated with the loans. During the campaign of the First Peace Loan in 1919, Prime Minister Hughes was carried from Town Hall to Moore Street, where a ‘Temple of Peace’ had been constructed outside the Bank’s Head Office to advertise the loan. The Second Peace Loan was launched in July 1920 and the visiting Prince Edward was one of its first subscribers.
In each capital city, a ‘Diggerville’ was constructed by the government’s Repatriation Department to show how loaned money would be spent. Sydney’s Diggerville was built in Moore Street in front of the Bank’s Head Office. A huge banner was hung across the face of the building reading ‘Help the Digger. Help your Country. Help yourself. Subscribe to the 2nd Peace Loan’.
The official launch of the Third Peace Loan (the Digger’s Loan) in Moore Street, outside the Bank, was a major event. Dame Nellie Melba (a famous soprano of the time) cut the opening ribbon; coloured streamers, bunting and balloons were released, along with a flight of pigeons carrying messages advising the public to invest in the bonds. A model of the Bank’s Head Office, built outside the real one, acted as an enquiry office for the loan.
The Bank’s Head Office was also a focal point for the fundraising efforts of Bank staff. These began in support of soldiers during the First World War. A ‘gunyah’ stall was set up outside the Bank in 1917 and continued some years after the war ended. The Bank also supported the Hospital Saturday Fund, which contributed to local hospitals, as well as other charities.
From 1918 when troop movements were less secretive, female staff from the Bank formed a ‘strong post’, which was the first in Sydney. They lined up along Moore Street to cheer the soldiers as they marched past, waving flags and handing out cigarettes, flowers, cards and sweets. The ‘strong post’ was continued for the rest of the war, and welcomed soldiers home when the time came.
After the war ended, the word ‘PEACE’ was displayed on the building in huge letters covered with lights, surrounded by flags and bunting. Substantial crowds gathered in Moore St, outside the Bank building, to celebrate the cessation of fighting.
HRH Edward, Prince of Wales 1920
Prince Edward visited Australia in 1920 as a show of gratitude for the effort and sacrifice of the nation during the war. He made appearances in 110 cities and towns across Australia. It was a very popular visit, with large crowds amassing everywhere the Prince appeared, all hoping to catch a glimpse of the handsome young royal. Edward became known as the ‘Digger Prince’ due to his war service and easy-going attitude.
The Bank’s Head Office was decorated with a huge ‘WELCOME’ sign outlined with lights in readiness for the Prince’s arrival, and the window boxes were decorated with scarlet and green. The Governor-General, Ronald Craufurd Munro Ferguson, held a banquet for the Prince in the Bank’s luncheon hall. It was the first time a royal had been banqueted in a bank. Alongside the Governor-General, Bank Governor Denison Miller greeted the Prince in the entrance to the Bank before escorting him inside. The following day, the Prince knighted Miller at Government House.
Edward, Prince of Wales, became Edward VIII and reigned from January to December 1936 before abdicating the throne. He was succeeded by his younger brother, the Duke of York.
The Duke and Duchess of York 1927
Another royal visit occurred in 1927 with the tour of the Duke and Duchess of York. The Bank’s Head Office in Martin Place (renamed as such in 1921) was one of only three buildings in the centre of Sydney to be outlined in lights to celebrate the visit (the other two being Customs House and the General Post Office). Bank branches across Australia were also decorated with lights and flags.
The façade of the Melbourne branch was illuminated with approximately 1,100 electric lights outlining the architectural features of the building and floodlighting the portico. The Bank’s colours of blue and gold were put to use in festoons and draperies, intermingled with lights. The Rose of York was also displayed in honour of the royals. When the Duke and Duchess arrived in Victoria on 21 April 1927, the Melbourne branch hosted a ball to celebrate the event, with officers of HMS Renown (the Royal vessel) and the Australian fleet invited – 30 officers from the navy and 12 from the military accepted. Other smaller branches also engaged with the celebrations, including the Perth branch, which was illuminated and decorated with flags.
The Duke and Duchess of York became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937, following the abdication of the Duke’s brother Edward VIII.
Silver Jubilee of King George V 1935
King George V’s silver jubilee, which marked 25 years of his reign, was held on 6 May 1935. The King called for simple and inexpensive celebrations. Selected branches, including the Adelaide Office, were floodlit as part of the Australian celebrations. Commemorative stamps were printed by the Note Issue Department.
Second World War
As during the First World War, the Bank was involved in raising funds from the public through ‘Liberty’, ‘Victory’ and ‘Austerity’ war loans, as well as through the sale of war savings certificates and stamps. Promotional banners and posters were displayed in Bank premises around the country, including across the front façade of the Head Office, using slogans such as ‘Make Your Money Fight, Buy War Savings Certificates’. The Bank led the production of promotional campaign materials – with several posters being designed by the Bank’s artist, Vernon Lorimer – until a dedicated agency was created for the purpose. War loan rallies were again held outside the Head Office in Martin Place, with streamers and confetti released onto the streets from the Bank premises.
The Note Printing Department printed ration coupons, as they needed to be difficult to counterfeit in order for the system to work; it also formed part of a distribution network that circulated the coupons throughout Australia. War savings certificates and war savings stamps were also printed on Bank premises.
The wartime shortage of staff led the Bank to increase the amount of female staff it employed, as it had during the First World War. Many male staff enlisted in the forces during the Second World War and so, for the first time in Australian history, women were permitted to become bank tellers. At night, after the work day had ended, groups of staff could be found in the staff luncheon room making surgical bandages and dressings for the troops. This volunteer work was supervised by the staff nurse.
In June 1940, the women of the Brisbane Branch formed a ‘strong post’ to see soldiers off with flags and bunting. Records also exist of a Sydney ‘strong post’, which welcomed soldiers during the march of the 16th Brigade AIF on 5 September 1942.
The Adelaide Office established a ‘comfort fund’ in 1940; by June, it was reported that they had knitted 271 pairs of socks, 27 scarves, 21 face washers, five balaclavas, four pairs of mittens and two waistcoats for those serving in the war. The Sydney Metropolitan Staff Patriotic Fund reported that their knitting group had made 500 pairs of socks in addition to other items of clothing. Bank staff also donated to various charities, such as the Australian Red Cross and the War Victims Relief Appeal. By 1942, the list had grown to include donations to canteens, rest and recreation rooms, and sleeping hostels maintained for troops on leave in Sydney, and to the Lord Mayor’s Fund for provision of comforts to forces in all theatres of war, including Australia.
The Bank’s Head Office in Sydney was decorated to welcome American sailors on 20 March 1941. A US Naval Parade marched down Martin Place and American flags were hung from the building’s exterior to welcome them. Bank staff climbed out the windows and clung to the outside ledges in order to get a better view of the excitement below.
The Darwin branch, built in 1939, managed to escape the Japanese bombing raids in early 1942, despite a large bomb demolishing buildings diagonally opposite it. The premises were given over to the Australian Naval Authorities during the war as Darwin became an important base for regional war operations.
The Melbourne branch held a Victory Ball in late 1945, donating the proceeds to the Legacy Club. The official Victory Day was Monday 10 June 1946, and the country rang with celebrations. In Sydney, the day began with a ceremony outside the Bank’s Head Office at the Cenotaph at 9 am, where wreaths were placed in memory of those who did not survive the war. Afterward, a huge parade marched up Martin Place and through the city. Bank branches throughout Australia joined in the celebrations – for example, the Nyngan branch in the centre of New South Wales created a float and participated in the town’s Victory Day procession.
Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh 1954
The Royal Tour of 1954 was the first time a reigning monarch had visited Australia. The Bank’s branches around the country were decorated with striking displays that attracted a great deal of public interest and commentary, especially in the state capitals.
To coincide with the Queen’s visit to Sydney on 3 February, the Bank’s Head Office was richly decorated with bunting, drapes and ornamental crowns. Inside the building, 70 vases of flowers decorated the banking chamber, prompting so much public interest that the building was kept open to visitors until 10 pm each night. A portrait of the Queen above her cypher ‘ER II’ was displayed on the mezzanine floor, surrounded by over a thousand green and gold handmade flowers. The centrepiece of the decorations was the ‘Banker’s Arch’, a structure that soared 33 metres above Martin Place. The large crown supported by the arch was floodlit at night.
A sumptuous display was arranged at the Collins St office in Melbourne, where the banking chamber was turned into a garden setting, complete with a flower show; approximately 70 to 80 large vases were used in the teller’s area alone. Much of the display was borrowed from the Sydney Head Office after the immense success of the decorative scheme there. Large crowds visited the Bank during business hours to experience the decorations, and over 348,000 people visited during the evenings and on weekends.
At the Perth branch, over each doorway was positioned a circular emblem featuring a crown painted on a blue background, with the legend ‘God Bless Our Queen’. Painted flags were also hung on the sides of each doorway, emblazoned with the Queen’s initials. Inside the building, there was an abundance of flags, flowers, illuminated pieces and sparkling cut-outs. The floral decorations were increased on two evenings, and the general public was invited to view the displays. Vases and troughs were placed on all tables and counters in the public area, and greenery was arranged on the stairs. Approximately 12,000 people attended the Bank on these two evenings to see the decorations.
Despite an untimely cyclone, the Brisbane Office managed an amazing display by raiding the gardens of staff, where flowers had managed to escape the wild weather. Thousands of flowers were brought to the office and displayed in boxes and tins that had been painted to look like Wedgewood pottery. A water lily pond was constructed in the middle of the banking chamber, surrounded by flowers, ferns, shrubs, greenery and a feature piece made up of dozens of gladioli in a huge vase. The display was floodlit at night, and the premises’ steel doors were opened, so that the public could enjoy the spectacle after hours. The display was maintained for a week and thousands of people visited during this time to take it in.
The central piece of the Hobart Office’s elaborate display was a huge Union Jack that covered the full height and width of the front of the building. A crown measuring 20 feet (about 6 metres) and outlined with 200 lights was placed in the centre. Flags were displayed on the building’s flagpoles; under these were 12 scarlet and gold banners that had been part of the Trafalgar Square display during the Queen’s coronation. On a blank wall facing Government House (which was quite some distance away), the huge steel letters from the ‘Commonwealth Bank’ sign were rearranged to spell ‘Welcome’. An eight-foot (about 2.5 metres) crown was added, surrounded with red, white and blue bunting. The display was floodlit at night. When the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh toured Hobart on 20 February 1954, they appeared delighted by the Bank’s decorations, resulting in cheers from the crowd.
Smaller branches also decorated their buildings for the royal visit – including the Parramatta branch on the outskirts of Sydney, which used bunting in red, white and blue.
The Bank had its own horticultural society for staff, which collaborated with community organisations to hold competitions and exhibitions that were open to the general public. For example, in March 1954, the Bank and the Royal Horticultural Society of NSW held the Sydney Dahlia Show at the Bank’s Head Office. In April, the Bank and the National Rose Society held the Rose Show, with many hundreds of people recorded as attending.
Fundraising and charitable works
The involvement of Bank branches in the life of the community was not limited to large celebrations and events. Staff fundraising activities that began during the First World War did not end when the war finished; instead, many continued on in other guises with a wider range of recipients. A variety of charities were supported, parcels of groceries were delivered to people experiencing hardship, Christmas parties were arranged at Children’s hospitals, and cots maintained throughout the year in children’s wards and orphanages.
In Sydney during the First World War, a booth was set up outside the entrance to the Bank’s Head Office where the newly formed Patriotic Club could fundraise. Bank employees, their relatives and friends donated items that could be sold from the stall. It was staffed by female employees, who were given time off from their Bank duties to fundraise, according to a roster that considered when they could best be spared throughout the business day. This continued on through the years – for example, in May 1927 a vegetable stand became part of the ‘Gunyah’ stall outside the Head Office, where female staff sold donated vegetables to raise money for charity. Mrs Riddle (the Governor’s wife) was patron of the stall and held one of the cash collection boxes.
Staff could arrange to have an amount deducted from their pay every month and transferred to the Head Office Staff Cot and Charity Fund, where it would be redistributed to charities. Money was also raised from donations from staff in metropolitan and suburban branches, and through the sale of items such as buttons, tin hats and poppies.
There were two sponsored cots at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children in Camperdown and two at Scarba Welfare House for Children in Bondi. Each December, a Christmas tree was provided to the ward at Camperdown, with gifts for the children as well as chocolates, fruit, sweets and cakes. Scarba Welfare House was also sent cakes, sweets and toys for the children. In addition, every Saturday afternoon, some female staff from the Head Office would visit the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children where they would spend time entertaining the children on the ward where the Bank-supported cot was located. When available, they would also deliver toys and games to the ward.
It was a similar story at the Melbourne Office, where the social club installed a Christmas tree at the Children’s Hospital and organised a visit from Santa Claus for two wards each December.
The Brisbane Commonwealth Bank Charity Fund was likewise associated with a local Children’s Hospital, where the branch maintained a cot and organised Christmas treats distributed by Santa Claus. The Fund also donated to various charities, including the Queensland Ambulance Transport Brigade, various hospitals and the Blind, Deaf and Dumb Institution.
As well as supporting hospitals, the Bank’s charitable efforts reached more widely into the community, especially at Christmas. For example, it is recorded at Sydney Head Office that in 1934 ‘this year again sixty large parcels of groceries were delivered personally by girls from the various departments to extremely poor and genuinely needy families at Christmas time. The cars for the occasion were generously lent by the Bank and one entire day was taken up, and many miles covered before the last parcel was received by the delighted families’. The Bank supported 33 charitable institutions and hospitals in 1934.
Other state offices had their own versions, with such activities continuing for decades afterward. In 1946 alone, the Commonwealth Bank Staff Patriotic Fund of the Adelaide branch paid out over £564 to charities.
Given the necessarily strong construction of Bank buildings, it is almost unsurprising that the Bank’s Darwin branch was one of the few undamaged buildings in Darwin after Cyclone Tracey devastated the city in December 1974. For this reason, police and other officials conducted the clean-up operation of the city from the branch.
This information is drawn from records held by the Reserve Bank of Australia and the following external sources:
‘Commonwealth Bank: New Building Opened’, The Australasian, 26 August 1916, p 27.
‘Building & Construction. The Commonwealth Bank’, The Daily Telegraph, 13 April 1915, p 5.
‘Commonwealth Bank. Opened at Noon To-day. Sydney’s Finest Building’, Evening News (Sydney), 22 August 1916, p 4.
‘1,500 Attend Opening of Hobart’s New Bank Building’, The Mercury, 28 September 1954, p 11.
‘Huge Crowd Inspects New Bank’, The Mercury, 4 October 1954, p 18.
‘A Palatial Structure’, The Murchison Times and Day Dawn Gazette, 15 September 1916, p 1.
There are many records available on Unreserved relating to events and activities in which the Bank was involved.
The following materials are not currently available on this site, but are available on request. To request to view these materials please contact the Archives.
PA-000021 Notice – Calico – announcing a delay in the arrival of the Prime Minister for the Head Office foundation stone ceremony – 1913
Bank Notes magazine 1919–1959 – a complete set of Bank Notes magazine is held by the Reserve Bank of Australia Archives.
Staff - Head Office - Commonwealth Bank of Australia - Charity - Christmas tree donated by the Cot Fund Committee to the Upper Todman Surgical Ward, AK Ward as Santa Claus - December 1920
Staff - Head Office - Commonwealth Bank of Australia - Charity - Christmas tree donated by the Cot Fund Committee to the Upper Todman Surgical Ward - Miss Myall McCourt in Santa outfit - 23 December 1919
Premises - Cnr Pitt Street and Martin Place - Exterior - Head Office of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia decorated and illuminated for the visit of Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of York - 1927
Sydney - Street Scenes & Buildings - Day and night view of Martin Place, Sydney showing the decorations and illuminations for the visit of Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of York - 1927
Commonwealth Bank of Australia - Premises - Head Office, Corner Pitt Street and Martin Place - Banking Chamber - Royal Tour of HRH The Queen Elizabeth II - June 1954
Commonwealth Bank of Australia - Premises - Branches - Perth, Forrest Place - Royal Tour of HRH The Queen Elizabeth II - 1954
Commonwealth Bank of Australia - Premises - Branches - Melbourne, 367 Collin Street - Royal Tour of HRH The Queen Elizabeth II - 1954
Commonwealth Bank of Australia - Premises - Branches - Adelaide - Royal Tour of HRH The Queen Elizabeth II - 1954
Melbourne premises 367 Collins Street - Official luncheon on the site of the new building, following the Foundation stones ceremony - 26 July 1922
Melbourne premises 367 Collins Street - Sir Denison Miller setting the second Foundation stone for the new building - 26 July 1922 (view ii)
Melbourne premises 367 Collins Street - Sir Denison Miller setting the second Foundation stone for the new building - 26 July 1922 (view i)
Melbourne premises, 367 Collins Street - The Hon. WM Hughes, Prime Minister, setting the first Foundation stone for the new building - 26 July 1922
Prince of Wales' Visit to Australia - the Prince and His Party at Government House, Sydney - June 1920
Prince of Wales' Visit to Australia 1920 - Governor-General's Dinner held in the Luncheon Hall (Dining Room) of the Head Office of the Commonwealth Bank, Sydney - 16 June 1920 (copy a)
Commonwealth Bank of Australia - Prince of Wales' Visit to Australia - Head Office decorations by night (copy b) - June 1920
Prince of Wales' Visit to Australia June 1920 - Procession passing through Martin Place - 16 June 1920
CBA - PERTH - BRANCH OPENING INVITATION, ADMISSION CARD & NOTE - Special Admission Card - Archer Whitford Invitation
OPENING CEREMONY BOOKLETS & REPORTS ON THE CBA - Commonwealth Bank of Australia - Head Office - Sydney - opened 22 August, 1916
Opening of Commonwealth Bank building Hobart - speeches by Dr H.C. Coombs, 4 Oct 1954, gramophone record